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Eliminating Poverty Should Be a Priority for Ontario's Budget Makers

04/22/2015 08:46 EDT | Updated 06/22/2015 05:59 EDT
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Person giving cup to homeless woman

As the Wynne Government prepares to release its next budget, arguably its first as a majority government, voters are expecting to finally get a formal introduction to the Premier's plan for Ontario. Having styled herself as the "social justice premier" during her leadership bid, the public and the pundits will be primed to judge whether she is living up to her own hype.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa's recent claim that the government is on track to beat the $12.5-billion deficit projection by a cool $1.6-billion is seen by many to be a douse of cold water on those who would seek to fan the flames of austerity. However, after years of public sector funding freezes that have resulted in deep real-dollar cuts to hospitals, schools and social services, Ontarians are expecting more than just belt loosening: they want to see concrete investment in their collective future.

This is the message that the Ontario Federation of Labour brought to the table during the February pre-budget consultation. In a submission entitled, "Towards a Poverty-Free Ontario," the OFL proposed a suite of recommendations that would make the elimination of poverty and income inequality the province's top priorities.

For Ontario workers and their families, fairness means access to a good public education including daycare; affordable housing; quality health care; and pensions that allow older Ontarians to live with dignity.

Fairness also means hard work is rewarded with respectable wages, and all citizens and businesses contribute their share to our tax system. Finally, fairness means no Ontarian -- especially children -- need live with the indignity and hopelessness of poverty.

The OFL contended that poverty transcends the acutely felt impacts on individual families and affects entire communities. In other words, it is in the collective public interest to eradicate poverty.

For example, the social determinants of health -- of which poverty is a leading factor -- create negative outcomes and add enormous stress to our public health system. We also know that poverty contributes to a range of social challenges -- from family breakdowns to drug abuse to criminal justice issues -- that also impact our collective quality of life and the public treasury.

On the other side, poverty constrains educational achievement, reduces opportunities for employment (reduced access to transit or clothes required for work) and reduces the potential for economic growth and additional tax revenue.

In short, the OFL argued that poverty is more than just unfair, unjust, inequitable, it is incompatible with efforts to build a prosperous society.

Let's hope that Premier Wynne's April 26 Budget embraces the potential of all Ontarians by tabling a concrete plan to reduce -- and eventually eliminate -- poverty.

The OFL made the following budget recommendations:

• Appoint community and labour to advise the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy;

• Reduce poverty for indigenous peoples;

• Introduce $100/month healthy food supplement for social assistance recipients;

• Affordable, universal and public early learning and child care;

• Abolish community college tuition fees and eliminate interest on student loans;

• Raise minimum wage to $15 an hour, lift employment standards and make it easier to join a union;

• Build and maintain new affordable cooperative housing;

• Transition homeless people off the streets; and

• Ensure that the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) is universal and mandatory.

The OFL argued that government revenue could increase by $6-billion a year simply by:

• Increasing corporate taxes from 11 per cent to 14 per cent;

• Cracking down on tax cheaters; and

• Removing the exemptions from the Employer Health Tax

Click here to download the OFL's Pre-Budget Submission.

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